Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Ministerial Health

Eve commented sometime last week, 'I'm concerned about the requirement of healthy mind and body. Can a minister who has well-managed mental health issues or physical disabilities, excel? "

Of course, one answer is a resounding, "Yes!" It is possible to be a fine minister while coping with many kinds of health conditions. I suppose that most of us, at least after a certain age, manage some mental and physical health issues, and still excel in our work.

Another answer has to be more qualified. A certain level of health and ease of life (or at least a good match between one's needs and one's ministry setting) is necessary if one is to serve others with energy. And I'm aware that there is great concern in the Protestant ministerial world that clergy as a whole are not very healthy. Rightly or wrongly (both, I think) physical health and spiritual leadership are linked in most people's minds. As even traditional medicine begins to understand mind-body connections we're more and more realizing that our health and our choices and our self-discipline are intertwined. This is an uncomfortable new reality for many of us. It takes time and energy and money to care for one's health and those are things we ministers sometimes think we don't have enough of.

I imagine that most of us are aware of ministers whose ability to excel, or even work at all, was impacted by mental and physical health issues.

I myself went through a five year period of semi-related health problems. I had four surgeries in five years and then suffered a depression. There were many gifts in that period, and I think that I'm a better minister for having gone through that time. Certainly I'm a more compassionate pastor to my hospitalized, depressed, and worried folk! Been there. But I was not excelling in ministry in those five years and my church wasn't doing so well, either. If I had not been able to move out of that period and get and stay (relatively) more healthy, I would have had to move to a less challenging ministry. If I had known at the outset what I was in for, I probably would have felt the need to depart. I aim to serve, after all! But one doesn't usually know, and one doesn't always have choices.

I guess what I thought when I read that line about health was mostly about those coming into the profession. It's an emotionally and physically strenuous career in every size of church. I worry about people who come into ministry dealing with health issues because I think that the stress of ministry is all too likely to make those issues worse. But given that we probably all get our little list of "issues" as we age, perhaps that's just a fact of life.

Perhaps where excellence comes in is in dealing well with whatever life gives us, doing the spiritual, emotional, and physical work of health, and being realistic about whether we are able to continue to serve in a particular ministry.

1 comment:

Eve said...

Thank you for a thoughtful response. I was thinking about the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for applicants/employees with disabilities, whether lifelong or fairly short-term. The law doesn't require an employer to give someone a lighter workload or to accept lower work standards, only to provide the accommodations that allow the employee to do the full job well. I worry that overtly equating health with capacity for excellence could make us less willing even to look at (much less provide) whatever reasonable accommodations would allow person with a disability to excel.